Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Affluent Buyers Seek a Piece of Berlin's Past ; Historic Details Bring Higher Prices, but Also Lofty Maintenance Bills

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Affluent Buyers Seek a Piece of Berlin's Past ; Historic Details Bring Higher Prices, but Also Lofty Maintenance Bills

Article excerpt

Roughly 27 percent of apartment buildings in Berlin were constructed before 1918 and provide old character that is in high demand. But that charm comes at a lofty price.

There are lots of apartments in Berlin. But the demand, at least among affluent prospective buyers, is for those built before World War II, with their high ceilings and almost floor-to-ceiling windows. And their supply is limited for the simple reason that so few survived the war.

Research from Winters & Hirsch Property Consultants in Berlin found that 27.2 percent of the city's apartment buildings were constructed before 1918. "The old character plays a role, naturally," said Philipp C. Tabert, the company's managing director. "It has a lot more charm than a new building."

But that charm comes at a price. Older apartments sell for an average of EUR 155,000, or about $191,000, according to the company's 2011 sales data. That is EUR 1,810 per square meter, or about $207 per square foot.

In comparison, apartments built from 1970 to 1990 average EUR 1,490 per square meter; those built from 1949 to 1969 average EUR 1,255 per square meter, according to Winters & Hirsch.

Experts say that in addition to the higher cost, a historic apartment is likely to be more expensive to maintain.

Many fall under ensembleschutz, or ensemble protection laws, a program in which the city and residents of a neighborhood with historic character agree to try to retain that ambience. In those areas, for example, apartment owners would need permission to change their windows, to ensure that a building's historic facade is maintained.

Historical preservation laws known as denkmalschutz place even more rigorous restrictions on almost any change. But Ulf Sieberg, an expert on energy efficiency and building renovation with the German environmental organization NABU, said only about 3 percent of all buildings in Berlin were subject to those laws.

Steffen Riedel of Eza!, an environmental and energy conservation consulting firm in southern Germany, said potential buyers of historic properties should press sellers for details of any preservation restrictions and check with the local authorities about specific requirements.

"It can be frustrating and expensive" to maintain the charms that made an apartment desirable in the first place, Mr. Riedel said.

He also said that many older buildings had poor air circulation, which over time could lead to problems with mold, and that they might lack insulation.

Mr. Sieberg said potential buyers should be aware that German law calls for the country to become climate neutral -- producing no pollution or greenhouse gases -- by 2050, a goal that will require many buildings to become more energy efficient. Because the date is so far in the future, the enforcement of building codes and environmental standards now is perceived as lax, and many owners have not brought their units up to even current building codes. …

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